Music in the Making

Music In The Making: At Home With Homage, Part I

Plagiarism or praise? We’ll find out in this two-part series exploring the tradition of tribute.


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Classical composers have a long history of borrowing from one another, absorbing the techniques, styles, and sometimes even melodies of their predecessors. Frequently, this occurred as a way of paying homage to important influences. In this two-part series, we’ll explore this tradition of tribute.

Maurice Ravel
Maurice Ravel
Francois Couperin
Francois Couperin

Maurice Ravel: Tombeau de Couperin
Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra; Larry Rachleff, conductor
Stude Concert Hall

The french word, “Tombeau,” literally means “Tomb,” or “tombstone.” However, in the seventeenth century, the term was adopted by many French composers, and was used to describe memorial works. The genre was later revived in the 20th century by composers such as Ravel, who wrote Tombeau de Couperin between 1914 and 1917. The work is a double memorial; through its traditional dance suite form, it pays homage to Francois Couperin, a French Baroque composer. Each movement, though, is dedicated to a friend who died in World War I.

Luigi Boccherini
Luigi Boccherini

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Selections from Sonata Omaggio a Boccherini
Steve Kostelnik (guitar)
Dudley Recital Hall

Next, we’ll turn to Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Sonata for Guitar, which is subtitled “Homage to Boccherini.” This work combines the courtly, somewhat florid style of the Italian Classical composer Luigi Boccherini with Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s more modern approach to harmony and virtuosic understanding of guitar technique.

Johannes Brahms
Johannes Brahms
Joseph Haydn
Joseph Haydn

Johannes Brahms: Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn for Orchestra, op. 56a
Texas Music Festival Orchestra
Moores Opera House

Yet another way that composers pay tribute to one another is through variation form, by borrowing a melody from someone else and composing a series of variations upon it. Brahms, for instance, was inspired by a set of divertimenti for wind ensemble which were, at that point, attributed, albeit incorrectly, to Haydn. Drawn to a particular slow movement, called Chorale St. Anthony, Brahms utilized it as the basis for Variations on a Theme by Haydn.

This episode originally aired Sunday, July 16th, 2017. Catch Music in the Making every Sunday at 7:06 PM on Classical.